We spy a hit!
Arthur J Pais
Nathan Muir (Robert Redford), a CIA operative, is about to go home after 30 years of spying for the CIA. But that very day he learns his former partner and protégé Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt) is about to be executed in 24 hours by the Chinese for espionage.
Worse, Muir learns Bishop was on his own personal mission. The CIA, of course, looks the other way.
The American president is to visit China. And the agency doesn't want any unpleasantness. The CIA spy masters have no qualms about sacrificing Bishop. But they spend the day questioning Muir hoping to find a good reason to sacrifice the younger, wayward spy.
So Muir, partly spurred by his affection for Bishop, and partly motivated by the fact that he had let down his protégé, sets out to make amends and save a life. After many convoluted twists and an elaborate covert operation, he ends up saving two lives. And perhaps his conscience. He ends up defeating the smug new generation of bosses at the CIA.
Admirers of films based on John Le Carre's Smiley novels, not to forget the recent haunting Tailor Of Panama will see a few echoes from Le Carre's work in the above plot.
But the new film, Spy Game, is never as cerebral or pulsating as Tailor Of Panama. No wonder it is shaping into a substantial hit, headed for at least $75 million in North America. Tailor made just about $10 million.
Soon after Spy Game starts, we see Muir meet Bishop in Vietnam in 1975, when he sends the newly minted soldier to assassinate a Viet Cong officer. After the war ends, he deliberately stations Bishop in a routine job in West Germany thus ensuring a bored and frustrated Bishop will do his bidding. Soon he sets up the young soldier as a secret agent.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall and communism in East Germany, Muir and Bishop travel to Beirut, where they hatch a well-calculated plan to kill a radical politician. Meanwhile, Bishop meets a British social worker and falls in love with her.
The increasing bond with the social worker makes Bishop think about the politics of assassination and the ethical dilemmas spies face.
Bishop had started facing the problem when he was ordered to abandon a would-be defector in East Berlin. Now, his conscience bugs him more.
Director Tony Scott keeps moving the film at a fast pace, though some of the flashback scenes drag on. The film could have probed deeper into the subtle challenges Muir's conscience faces. But then Le Carre did not write this one, did he?
The Beirut segment of the film seems a bit raw -- you cannot but remember the September 11 terrorist attacks on America.
Among the actors, Robert Redford wears many masks and comes out on top all the time. His role also calls for comic touches. And he is very good at conning his opponents and enjoying the surprised look on their faces.
Though Brad Pitt spends considerable time in a darkened Chinese dungeon, he offers a dashing performance in the action scenes. He is quite good as a man slowly overcome by his self-doubt.
British actresses Catherine McCormack as the social worker and Marianne Jean-Baptiste as Muir's secretary are good, too.
Cast: Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, Catherine McCormack and Marianne Jean-Baptiste
Director: Tony Scott
Screenplay: Michael Frost Beckner and David Arata